One in two people living in the Barranquilla work in the informal economy, shining shoes and cleaning houses, according to Colombia’s National Administrative Department of Statistics.

Leiner grew up selling pastelitos, or pastries, on the street at the age of 12. Work had always been that way for his family. His mother earned $160 a month as a live-in housekeeper and only saw her family for one day every other weekend. His father worked sporadic construction jobs.

In the last few years, Barranquilla has had the fastest growing economy in Colombia—thanks to a surge in public and private investment and booming construction and port activity—and lower crime and poverty rates. But these boons excluded the city’s most vulnerable populations, including women, youth, ethnic groups, conflict victims, disabled persons, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities.

ACDI/VOCA Colombia Work for Reconciliation Youth Job Training

With lower education levels and poor access to jobs, many young people like Leiner work off the books, meaning they accept poor working conditions with no contracts, pensions, or medical coverage. At age 18, Leiner was working in construction and, one day, fell about 15 feet from scaffolding onto the pavement and had to get a metal plate put in his wrist that now prevents him from doing most manual work.

The accident was a turning point for Leiner, whose sister told him about free workforce development classes at the Gente Estratégica training center offered through the Work for Reconciliation project, implemented by ACDI/VOCA and funded by the Government of Colombia’s Department of Social Prosperity, USAID, and the private companies Anadarko and Diageo.